GREENBACK 42, SOUTH PITTSBURG 27
The star: Kyree Pryor ran 17 times for 138 yards and three TDs in a losing cause for South Pittsburg.
Up next: The Cherokees (14-0) play next week for the Class 1A state championship.
SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — Once again South Pittsburg raced out to the fast start it has become accustomed to this season. Unlike in weeks past, the opponent didn't flinch this time.
A veteran and physical Greenback team took the Pirates' best shot, falling behind 14-0 midway through the first quarter, then answered by scoring seven of the next eight touchdowns in an impressive 42-27 win in the Class 1A semifinals.
The victory returns the third-ranked Cherokees (14-0) to the state title game, where they will try to avenge last year's loss.
"That's the way we're approaching it, like we've got unfinished business," said Greenback senior running back Kayne Roberts, who scored three touchdowns.
The Pirates, who had scored 50-plus points in eight of their last 10 games, scored on a 61-yard run by Kyree Pryor on the third play of the game. After stuffing the Cherokees and blocking a punt, South Pittsburg (12-2) then added a 4-yard scoring run by Cade Kennemore.
The momentum of the game turned when, facing a fourth-and-12, Greenback used a reverse pass that paid off big when Hunter Willis hit Dylan Caldwell for a 37-yard TD.
"That play was huge for us," Roberts added. "We expected to face adversity coming in because it's the semifinals and it's supposed to be tough. We just kept playing."
From that point the Cherokees physically dominated South Pittsburg, scoring three more times before halftime and forcing the Pirates, who had averaged 9 yards per play coming in, to earn every yard.
The Cherokees outgained the Pirates 401-279 in total yards.
"They're one of the most physically imposing teams we've seen in a long time," Pirates coach Vic Grider said. "I don't remember seeing a bigger, more physical team at our level. We got in a position in the second quarter where we couldn't get much done and they got after us pretty good.
Ahead by one score, Greenback's first possession of the second half stalled at the Pirates' 6, but on fourth down Willis scrambled to his left, then back across the field before finding tight end Tavin Kilpatrick in the back of the end zone for a back-breaking score.
South Pittsburg turned the ball over on downs twice in the second half in Greenback territory.
"That fourth-down play they scored on in the first half really seemed to get them rolling," Grider said. "That was just really, really huge. And the other fourth-down play was another big one. We were in good position on both but just couldn't make a play to stop them.
"We played extremely hard, but honestly we just got beat by a better team."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis